Monthly Archives: January 2016


The Importance of Composition

Ethan Composition

During piano lessons at EN Music Studio, I often incorporate composition/notation exercises for my students. While playing the piano is the skill of interpreting the music, composition is the skill of creating the music. Playing the piano can be compared to reading a story, while composing can be compared to writing the story. Just like someone who wants to learn English, the three most important aspects are speaking, writing, and listening. I believe that these 3 concepts apply directly to learning music as well. Therefore, composition is an important part of piano lessons!

What’s So Important About Composition?

When composing, students must actively think about the language of music. Having come up with a melodic idea, the student has to come up with how to notate this idea on a 5-line staff. By doing this, the student will gain a further understanding of how the notes they see on the page, relate the keys on the piano.

Similarly, students will learn the the basics of rhythm by composing. How many beats fit in a bar in 4/4 time? Can we have 3 quarter notes and 2 half notes? This is a crucial concept to understand to become a better piano player. While melody is important, the entire structure of the piece is based on rhythm.  Audience members will notice errors in rhythm more than errors in melody.

Students will also get a chance to use musical terms that we encounter during our playing exercises. Where do we put a fermata in? How can we add an accidental? By writing down the notations, it further helps enforce their knowledge of these musical terms.

How is Composition taught at EN Music Studio?

Composition is taught by giving as much freedom as possible to the student composer. It’s important to let them explore. It is important to let them decide what they think sounds good, and decide what sounds they want to create. My role as a teacher is to give them basic (appropriate to their level) guidelines. An example of a guideline would be assigning the key that the piece is in. By giving the student a key to work within, the project of composition becomes less overwhelming.

It is also my role to guide them when they are stuck, or having trouble expressing an idea. Although there is lots of freedom in composition, it is important to give constructive feedback keep the students on a productive path. For example, sometimes students compose pieces that are impossible for the piano to play! These are limitations that students will bump into and learn as they explore.

Student compositions not only help build a larger and stronger music vocabulary, it also help the students establish that they themselves are growing musicians rather than a student.

Check out EN Music Studio’s instagram page for student compositions and other fun pics. There will be a composition event in February for all students!

 

 


Music Practice

RandomVSBlockPracticing

 

This article on how musicians should practice captured my attention the other day. For those who love podcasts as much as I do, check this podcast with the writer of the article, Dr. Christine Carter,  interviewed by Andrea from TeachPianoToday.

What are we talking about?

More often than not, musicians (me included!) find that after a grueling practice session of repeating a difficult passage many times and finally making progress, all the progress disappears the next time. Even worse, you look like you didn’t practice in front of your teacher. What Dr. Carter talks about mainly, is the difference between block practicing, and random practicing.

What is Block Practicing?

Block practicing is repeating a difficult section over and over again, until improvement is obviously evident. Sound familiar? This technique is the most standard way to practice a tricky part. More commonly, it is heard in this way:

“Do this section 10 times correct in a row”

What is Random Practicing?

Random practicing is repeating the first difficult passage a couple times, then switching to another difficult passage (even if the first passage has not been perfected). Return to the first section afterwards, or skip to another difficult passage first.

For example:

Practice bar 1-4 three times. 
Practice bar 8-12 three times
Practice bar 1-4 three times again
Practice bars 16-20 three times
Practice bar 1-4 three times again

Which is More Effective?

Based on Dr. Carter’s research, students who do Random Practicing experience better results than students who do Block Practicing.

Why?

Although block practicing reinforces muscle memory, and shows evident improvements during the practice session itself, it does not promote learning efficiently. This means that the progress made with block practicing is often temporary.

Our brain also becomes “bored” of repeating the same passage over and over again, which negatively effects our focus, patience, and overall productivity.

Random Practicing allows for more variety in practicing. Practicing different sections randomly means a more interesting practice session. Because our brains must reset each time we approach a new section ,this promotes more learning, and more long term results.

According to Dr. Carter’s research, random practicing is twice as effective as block practicing, even though the time spent practicing is the same.

 

Let’s get to random practicing then!

 


What is Being a Piano Player?

 

Am I a Piano Player

I have been playing the piano since I was 7 years old, and I still often wonder…

“am I a piano player?”

What makes a piano player? Is it extreme virtuosity displayed by playing works by the greats like Liszt and Chopin, where fingers are moving so fast and in such complex ways that it seems magical ? Or is a piano player the creator of soft spoken ambient music at a classy venue?

Everyday, I ask myself this question. After dedicating 17 years of my life to learning this art,  thousands of dollars into lessons, competitions, and exams, and now having my work center around piano teaching, I still ask myself whether or not I am a real piano player. I know many friends who feel this way.

That is because piano is only the medium, and the substance is music. Music can be anything, and the brilliant thing about pianos, is that they can almost play everything.  Of course, I’m not saying that the piano can ever replace the sweet sounds of a flute, or the gentle plucking a guitar. However, the piano can duplicate those notes that the flute and guitar playing, due to the piano’s large 88-key range. Because you can play as many notes as your hands can reach with the piano, you could even play the guitar and the flute part together on the piano to create a reduction of those two parts.

However, that doesn’t answer the question: What is a piano player?

A piano player is someone who can multi-task, because solo piano pieces require both harmonic (the music structure), and melodic (the catchy and/or beautiful tune) content. All piano players eventually learn the importance of balancing these two aspects of music with their two hands, through developing the ear to hear the subtle differences, and developing the fingers to reflect the correct changes. Don’t forget about the foot pedal too.

A piano player is someone who can adapt quickly to a new situation, because most pianos you will perform on will likely not only be owned by someone else, but have a completely surprising, and sometimes shocking, sound and touch to them. Any piano player will tell you the horror stories of playing on a dysfunctional piano. Maybe it was out of tune. Maybe one of the keys didn’t work. I once played on a piano where a piece of a key broke off as I was playing. Unfortunately, that’s just the problems of a piano player, since our instrument is too heavy to transport. Knowing this…we adapt! All piano players eventually learn to quickly understand their instrument onstage and perform to the best of their abilities.

A piano player is someone who enjoys being in the solo spotlight. This one may be a little more controversial, as I know many piano players feel like they’re not comfortable performing. There are also many opportunities to support other musicians as a piano player, such as being an accompanist to a choir, or being part of a piano quartet. However, the one thing that separates the piano from all the other instruments, is that there is usually only one spot for a pianist on stage. A piano can perform so many musical functions, that it can stand on the stage solo for an entire show. A piano player is brave enough to be up there solo and play their instrument

Of course,  some of these points can be made for other instruments too! However, it is important to note that piano is  commonly thought of as a important skill for all musicians to have.

Some Examples of Work that Require Piano Skills

  • Leading a choir sectional (helping singers learning their notes)
  • Transposing something quickly (changing the key)
  • Composing (much easier to play all the parts on the piano rather than bring in many instruments!)
  • Accompanying soloists (Instrumental players, like a violin player, often play pieces with piano accompaniment

The list goes on and on. A piano player is anyone who loves music, and uses the piano to express themselves. The very visual and intuitive piano is great for both beginners, and seasoned musicians.

Have a great day!

 

Eric
EN Music Studio